Anger over fuel price hike

HAULIERS in East Anglia warned last nightthat a proposed rise in duty on petrol could spark protests across the region.Chancellor Gordon Brown appears set to confirm that the duty on petrol will rise by more than 5p per gallon at the start of next month.

HAULIERS in East Anglia warned last nightthat a proposed rise in duty on petrol could spark protests across the region.

Chancellor Gordon Brown appears set to confirm that the duty on petrol will rise by more than 5p per gallon at the start of next month.

Steve Williams, from the Eastern Region of the Road Haulage Association, said hauliers who were negotiating with the Government about road user charges felt betrayed because they believed that the introduction of user charges would keep fuel tax down.

He said: "I think there will be a certain sector of the industry that has already decided they have to take some sort of action. I can't understand how people are supposed to get about.

"There's no alternative to using cars in rural areas."

In his April Budget Mr Brown said that he was halting the usual annual inflation rise in petrol duties because of the Iraq war, which sparked volatility in oil prices.

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It is believed that he now feels the international situation has improved sufficiently to go ahead with the deferred increase. A clause in this year's Finance Act allows Mr Brown to make the levy - 1.28p a litre - without seeking further Parliamentary approval.

The increase would raise between £200 and £300 million for the Government in this financial year.

In September 2000 as part of a national protest about fuel rises, almost every petrol station in Suffolk empty following a peaceful blockade at a fuel depot in Landseer Road, Ipswich. At Britain's biggest port Felixstowe truckers caused chaos with hundreds of lorries arriving at once.

Kate Gibbs, national spokeswoman for the Road Haulage Association, said the organisation had received reports from all over the country that angry hauliers were contemplating taking to the streets again.

She said: "I think we have to prepare for the worst. We will support them as long as their actions are legal and we would hope that if there is action inconvenience to the public will be kept to a minimum. "I wouldn't be surprised if there wasn't an autumn of discontent looming."

Bob Steward, owner of haulage company RT Steward, in Lawford, branded the rise yet another stealth tax.

He said: "There are a lot of people you talk to who are of the opinion that we could be back to the kind of protests of three years ago. There's no level playing field in our industry. I think we will see fuel costs on the continent decreasing and in Great Britain increasing."

Jack Thain, 81, chairman of the Suffolk Pensioners' Association: "A lot of people have to use cars and on top of local taxation that's a far higher burden than I think the country should bear."

He also did not rule out pensioners taking to the streets in protest, but would be more likely to happen once councils started to announce the council tax rates for the next financial year.

Simon Burns, Conservative MP for West Chelmsford, said: "This latest stealth tax of over 5p a gallon will particularly hit those living in rural parts of West Chelmsford, pensioners, the less well off and those on benefits who are reliant on their cars for transportation. It is a disgrace that once again motorists are being hammered for the abject failure of the chancellor's tax and spend policies."

Chairman of the Eastern Region Pensioners' Association Harold Williams said: "I expect quite a reaction because quite a number of pensioners rely on car transport. Demos on the streets are quite possible. I find that each time something crops up we get larger crowds."

An RAC spokesman said: "Motorists would see this cost rise hit their wallets immediately. It is something that the motorist will not be happy with."

A Treasury spokesman said the decision on whether the rise would be introduced would be announced "in the proper way in due course".

The spokesman could not say exactly when that announcement would be made.

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